Originally posted for Huffington Post on 5/01/2017
In Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra recalls “my salad days,” when she was young and exuberant. Bring your most exuberant self to May — 31 whole days devoted to salad. My maternal grandfather approached salad exuberantly. Freewheeling in life and in the kitchen, his idea of salad was an ever-evolving anything goes combination but it was never bland. He so hated single-note salads, he’d make a public scene.
Is your homemade salad ho-hum? Don’t make the spirit of my grandfather come after you. Lose the supermarket bag o’greens. Sparkling salads start with fresh farmers market greens and never end.
- local, seasonal everything — sweet corn, luscious avocado, crisp snap peas, sassy arugula, showstopping watermelon radishes, a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes
- texture — meltingly tender roasted mushrooms or eggpplant, creamy white beans, chewy whole grains like barley, chopped dried fruit, shaved fennel, diced celery, toasted almonds and more build dimension
- crunch — toasted nuts, seeds or roasted chickpeas or when all else fails, top salad with thinly sliced crostini, panfried cubed tofu or crumbled toasted tortillas (croutons are ‘80s)
- protein — This not a synonym for meat. Plant-based protein like beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, tofu and tempeh take salad from slight to significant and satisfying
Subtract — bottled dressing. Blech. And laden with sugar, salt, thickeners and preservatives. DIY dressing. At its most elemental, you just need acid, by way of citrus or vinegar, and oil. There’s nothing wrong with extra virgin olive oil but explore other options, like bronze, buttery pumpkin seed oil, green, nutty green hemp seed oil or tahini (sesame seed paste) for lusciousness. Swap basic balsamic for mild, fruity cider vinegar, sweet Asian mirin or fragrant sherry vinegar. Ramp it up with a spoonful of miso or mustard, a squeeze of fresh citrus, a squirt of sriracha and/or a blizzard of your favorite fresh chopped herbs.
Salad comes from the Latin word meaning salted. Finish salad with a light sprinkle of sea salt for flavor pop. Don’t forget salty pickles, olives capers and . . . Bacos. They’re pig-free and plant-based.
Now get to it. It’s National Salad Month and the spirit of my grandfather is watching.